Night terrors in babies: don't panic!

Published : 12-05-2022 15:00:30
Categories : baby-sleep

Night terrors in babies: don't panic!

Night terrors are often very impressive. Usually appearing at the beginning of the night, they are characterized by a child who cries and screams with all his might without being aware of their surroundings. Their heart rate and breathing intensify, he fidgets and sweats. A few minutes later, your little one is slowly falling asleep again. The next day, they have no memory of what happened during the night. Nothing to worry about! Although often scary for parents, these episodes are quite common in babies between 18 months and 4 years old. Up to 40% of kids have already experienced night terrors.

So what to do about this phenomenon? What are the right steps to take? Let's take a look at night terrors in toddlers.

Recognize night terrors

A night terror is the most impressive sleep disorder. It is impossible to miss! The cries of the toddler echo throughout the household. This disorder is part of parasomnias and resembles somnambulism in some ways. The kid has absolutely no awareness of the presence of their parents and the world around. They don’t hear voices, don’t see you, even though their eyes may be open. The toddler goes back to sleep quickly and without difficulty between 3 and 20 minutes later. These events generally appear in the first part of the night, at the end of the deep sleep cycle.

So here are some of the characteristics allowing you to recognize a night terror every time:

- The seizure occurs within the first 3 hours after bedtime

- The toddler seems terrified: he cries and screams

- The toddler has physical manifestations: fast heartbeat, sweating

- The toddler does not recognize his parents

- The toddler refuses to be comforted

- Return to sleep is quick and easy

- The toddler doesn't remember anything the next day

- If awake, the toddler is in a very unpleasant state of confusion.

It is therefore difficult to confuse a night terror with a nightmare! Nightmares appear in older children. In addition, your little one can clearly define what scared them, which is not the case with a night terror.

Why does my toddler have night terrors?

Night terrors are very common in children between 9 months and 4 years old. So don't worry if your little one faces a few difficult periods in his sleep. However, there are certain circumstances that can favor their appearance.

- A disrupted rhythm: In the case of any sleep disorder, a disrupted sleep rhythm can be the cause. Separation from the parents (nursery, babysitter, daycare, etc.), a big fright during the day or the arrival of another baby in the family, for example, can make it difficult for your little one to sleep. By changing the already established rhythm, the kid loses the coherence of the world he has observed until now. Adaptation can be very challenging for kids. As a result, their sleep may suffer.

- Lack of sleep: the most common factor remains lack of sleep. When a child doesn’t get enough sleep according to their needs, they tend to adapt. To do so, the duration of the deep sleep phase increases. This phase of sleep is conducive to the appearance of night terrors and nightmares! Thus, an early wake-up, a premature interruption of the nap during the day, or a change of pace during a trip, for example, can trigger the symptoms of a night terror.

- Heredity: if mom or dad were sensitive to night terrors when they were little, there is a good chance that your little one will experience partial awakenings at night (nightmares, sleepwalking, night terrors, etc.)

What to do about night terrors?

You have already understood that during a night terror, your baby is asleep and therefore has no awareness of their actions. After the episode, they go back to sleep without any anxiety or difficulties. Still sleeping, your kid is unable to remember what happened and does not want to know about it when he wakes up either. They, therefore, have neither need of reassurance nor of consolation! All your toddler asks for is to continue their night of sleep, which for them has not been interrupted at all. Although it seems difficult, the best course of action is still not to intervene. Accepting to do nothing may seem difficult for us adults, but it is the best solution even if the intensity of the baby's actions is frightening.

To help your toddler to get rid of these episodes, it is necessary to monitor the framework and the regularity of their sleep. Stick to the sleep ritual in the evening for a few days, make sure that the baby goes to bed early enough, and at the same time, make sure they take the number of naps they need, which will gradually space out the appearance of night terrors. Sleep disturbances generally disappear fairly quickly once regular sleep is regained.

Finally, it is important to note that waking up a baby in the middle of the night terror can only aggravate his symptoms. By interrupting their sleep too often, you risk causing other sleep disorders to appear. In addition, your little one has no idea what he is doing when he sleeps. Waking them up and being confronted with actions that they have no control over can be terrifying for them. By letting your child go back to sleep, they will continue their night as if nothing had happened and will not remember anything when they wake up.

Terreurs nocturnes chez bébé !

Night terrors in children under 2 years old

For a toddler under 2 who is prone to night terrors, it is important to let them cry in their crib/bed. You can wait next to him for the crisis to pass and gently cover him when he is finally calmed down. Remember again that he can't see or hear you anyway. The most important thing here is not to wake them up by taking him in your arms for example. Your little one needs a sufficient amount of sleep and waking him up too regularly can have serious consequences on the quality of his sleep. Being woken up, faced with worried parents, or even worse angry, is difficult to understand for your child who until then does not remember anything.

At this age, somnambulistic walks and bouts are extremely rare. The risk of your little one getting hurt is therefore minimal.

Night terrors in toddlers over 2 years old

For children over 2 years old, the procedure is the same. No need to intervene! On the other hand, if the seizures are particularly violent or if your child tends to get out of bed, it is important to remove from the room all dangerous objects that could hurt him. For the same reasons avoid furniture with sharp angles and avoid leaving doors/windows open.

There is no point in trying to reason with your child. He/she has no awareness of these actions and waking up in a humiliating or disturbing situation in front of his/her parents can be difficult to accept. It is not uncommon to see children who are very calm during the day have extremely violent crises in the evening. It is then even more difficult for them, of calm nature, to accept their incoherent behavior during the night. The best way to help him is to do your best to ensure quality sleep and its regularity.

Showing your love, and discussing any problems they might encounter during the day can also help them sleep better at night. A little sport can also allow him to let off steam and evacuate tensions!

If the problems persist, it is important to consult a psychotherapist who will be able to find out what is bothering your little one and preventing them from enjoying a good night's sleep.

Sleep terror medications: It is important to note that any medication to solve night terrors must be avoided before the age of 2 years. Babies need to learn to sleep and making them dependent on any substance is not a solution. For older children the benzodiazepine can be prescribed on only two occasions. If the troubles are too great and your little one is at risk of injury. This medication is generally taken while waiting for the beneficial effects of appointments with a psychotherapist. If the child is very sensitive to episodes of night terrors and has to sleep away from home (holiday camp or at a friend's house)

It is important to note that his medications are only prescribed for a very short time by doctors and that they do not form a lasting solution for children prone to sleep disorders.

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